Philippines Delegation Member Tells Her Story of July Trip

October 15, 2009

By Nicole Harris

On July 21, 2009 the Philippines Solidarity Task Force of the California-Nevada Annual Conference conducted a pastoral and solidarity visit to the Philippines. Led by Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr. and his wife, Minnie, the delegation of 10 members met with government officials, organizations, and families to document the extra-judicial killings, abductions, instances of torture, and other human rights violations that continue to take place in the Philippines.
The group also accompanied Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas to and from the Philippines. Roxas, a human rights activist and a member of Bagong Alayansang Makabayan USA, was abducted on May 19, along with John Edward Jandoc and Juanito Carabeo, by people Roxas believes were members of the Filipino military. At the time of her abduction, Roxas was volunteering in the Philippines as a health care worker and conducting research on a writing project. During her captivity, she was beaten, tortured, and falsely accused of being a member of the New People's Army, the military branch of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Roxas resurfaced six days later and returned to the United States in early June. Her two companions are reported back with relatives, but neither has spoken publically.
When I first learned about the trip to the Philippines, feelings of fear and excitement overwhelmed me. I knew that I wanted to go but didn't know why I was chosen to do so. Why me, God? Am I the right person for the task? As the trip drew nearer these and many other questions were in the forefront of my mind. Although I was uncertain of my role in the group, I knew that as a delegation our purpose was to provide solidarity and support to people who have been victimized by the extra-judicial killings, abductions, and cases of torture occurring in the Philippines.
In a number of ways, this delegation embarked on a risk-taking journey, one that involved standing and marching with people whose lives have been deeply affected by the political and economic situation of their country. For me, the risk-taking element was manifest most clearly as we drove through villages and towns in the province of Bicol, where the military was visible. In these moments, several passages of Scripture became significant, particularly passages in the Gospels related to the importance of hospitality.
As we met with families, this concept took on a different meaning. The story in Matthew 10 where the disciples are instructed to go into people's homes is a familiar passage for me. I have heard it preached in several sermons and taught in Sunday school classes. Here, the disciples are expected to proclaim the good news and bring a message of hope, but unlike the passage, I discovered that it was the families we visited who were the bearers of good news, not us.
As we drove into heavily militarized villages, the political situation of the country became very apparent. Soldiers with rifles stood at post, keeping careful watch of whomever passed their station. Despite the presence of the military, my concern was not for our immediate safety but rather the safety of those we visited. Throughout our time in the Philippines, it became very obvious that families were placing themselves in danger by merely welcoming us into their homes. While we had the privilege of returning to our comfortable lives, the individuals in the Philippines did not have that option. They had no choice but to continue to press on for their survival and that of their loved ones.
As we walked into various homes, people could have shunned us away, but they didn't. They chose to receive us with open arms and willing hearts in spite of it all. For me, this is where the meaning of hospitality took its shape, for it was in these moments that the families stood up for what they believed in. It was in these moments of hospitality that people said "No!" to the killings, and to the abductions, and to the torture, but instead said "Yes!" to hope and love.
As a task force, we could not proclaim the good news to those we encountered because they were already living it. For them, hope was not just a far-off entity but a concrete reality. It was something that they lived and breathed. Day after day, they are able to look the systemic evils of poverty, hunger, and disease in the eye and say, "We will not give up." By allowing us to break bread with them, they were saying, "Enough is enough! We will not passively stand by and watch our beloved country continue in conflict. We want the world to know our story and to witness our pain."
In essence, this article is an attempt to help them in that - by beginning to tell the stories of the people of the Philippines. If you listen closely, you will not only hear their cries of pain and anguish, but be a witness to their hope. As we continue to do our work in the States, let us not forgot those around the world who are able to inspire life in the hearts of others.